Next Wave of COVID: How Can HR be Battle-Ready?

The current situation is a mere pit stop. The mindset shift to take stock, gather strength, and charge ahead – is the way forward, whatever the future holds.


Human Resource Departments act as the backbone of businesses in remembering and reinforcing crucial lessons about handling business cycles in a pandemic-adjacent climate. Does a second wave of COVID-19 mean another scramble for businesses?

No one anticipated the standstill of business activity in late March 2020. That organizations and individuals alike were caught off guard by a nationwide lockdown would be an understatement. That said, businesses and the people running them found a way to adapt quickly and gather momentum after the shock of deceleration. Businesses can hope to ride out another wave of COVID-19 or any spin-offs by being people-centered. Ears to the ground on trends and primacy afforded to health and safety measures shall be the key themes for keeping businesses running.

Human Resource personnel became the go-to guides in this healthcare emergency. To save business rigor while retaining a strong employee experience, HR had to lead from the front and will continue to. The lessons from the past are the key and in addition, here are few points to be considered while new norms evolve.

  1. Watch trends for critical evaluation: The number of cases of fresh infection flatten out before markers plot a new trend of increasing cases. This model may not always be clearly defined. The weekly epidemiological report released for data closing on December 13th, 2020, states that South-East Asia and Eastern-Mediterranean regions ebbed away in terms of the number of new infections after September 2020. India was hailed as having “low trends in both death rate and new infection rate over the past month.” Keep watching the trends to ensure no information falls through the cracks.
  2. Embrace technology: Organizations drive outcomes thru the employees and HR can keep a pulse on employee mood and motivation levels tracking the pulse from time to time. Sophisticated AI-powered tools can crunch extensive datasets to analyze and detect minor switches in employees’ behaviors. Culture analytics help deepen insights based on which managers can grab guidance opportunities. They should show employees how to handle insecurity and anxiety – emotional states that are common in the prevalent climate. Put tech-literacy to its best use in many other areas as swanky tech ensures better employee experience and keeps the coveted productivity numbers up.
  3. Advise caution and oversee safety checks: HR offers routine caution and generic suggestions, it is recommended to include specific advisory for hygiene, in-person interaction, and general day-to-day behavior of their employees in the wake of COVID-19 led worries. The WHO advisory continues to reiterate the importance of using masks, social distancing, and other hygiene aspects even after initial vaccination is ready to be introduced. HR should train an eye on whether sanitization of contact surfaces such as doorknobs, stairwells and banisters, and elevator touch-points are being followed.
  4. Steer clear of comparison: Quite notably, the United States of America has been an exception to the rule of first waves being distinct from the following ones. In other countries in the European Union, the markers were picked up closely by Germany, Sweden, and a handful of other watchful nations. HR teams with multi-country operations should watch out for preconceptions from each geographical location. This way, they do not miss out on warning signs that are at variance to popular news.
  5. Audit current practices: HR in congruence with compliance can keep a watch on the ground reality. A second lockdown has the off-chance of forcing companies that were not traditionally agile in terms of employees’ work locations, shift timings, and productivity metrics. Mapping employees’ hours to quantifiable performance metrics gives HR the head-start to convene with business heads and re-evaluate the approach toward performance management overheads for the emerging new norm. This way, the switch to outcome-based measurement of performance, rewards and recognition becomes seamless. Side by side, employee experience flies consistently high when they have guided change and are kept abreast of performance standards as they emerge. HR stays on par with the pace of the emerging normal by auditing practices.
  6. Repeat, repeat: All the countries and regions of the world are now at a point where they have plenty of knowledge about how covid-19 spreads, affects lives and causes disruption. An awareness drive eight months into a pandemic is much more granular and actionable. Rules about get-togethers, sharing tables or consoles should be cascaded to team managers. A ready reckoner for employees should be available on handbooks and the company’s intranet, replete with updates and alerts on government directives.
  7. Encourage hybrid working models: Employees should be called in to the workplace only on a “needs” basis, with clear outlines on what constitutes a need. Support services like software support, access to SaaS packages, and IT support need to be on point for these remote working models to work out as long-term solutions. The time saved on the commute is a clear contributor to employee experience. HR personnel should explore hybrid models of workforce planning and staggered staffing, not restricted to domains like IT & IT-enabled Services and e-commerce. Supported by a set of functions that can be offered and managed via virtual platforms that promote an agile workforce.
  8. Introduce staggered shifts, timings, and rotations: Where employees are required to attend workplaces in person, solutions for social distancing can include workstations spaced further than two meters apart, staggered timings for shift workers, or bringing workers on staggered days across a given work-week to ensure mandated isolation from others.
  9. Uphold employee engagement: The human touch of daily interaction, Mentorship, and gaining inspiration from one another need not be swept aside as workers collaborate remotely. E-learning portals and the gift of edtech collaboration allow employees to keep on learning whether they work from office spaces outside the workplace, their homes, or anywhere else. They can learn from instructors present anywhere across the globe. Such customizable experiential learning and workshop opportunities keep workers engaged. Top performers thus stay focused on their personal and organizational goals – the cosmopolitan feel ups the employee engagement.
  10. Plan ahead for every event: HR is the leader in disseminating information on what to do and how to react to every situation – such as an employee suspecting an infection or testing positive for the virus. Everything from isolation during and after the contagious period to protocols for bringing employees back after an infection has safely subsided should be marked out. Such information must be shared sensitively on a need-to-know basis.

A second peak of fresh infections would mean that ‘business as usual’ still eludes workplaces. The current situation is a mere pit stop. The mindset shift to take stock, gather strength, and charge ahead – is the way forward, whatever the future holds. While health indices continue to be uncertain, the takeaways to all leaders include - the employee-centered outlook bears fruit in safeguarding employee experience, tech-savviness gleans direct wins on processing times and productivity figures. Battle Ready, valuable lesson duly learned.

(The given article is authored by Indira Ramachandra – CHRO, AscentHR)


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